Teleology

Psychologists of the humanistic approach emphasize peoples’ end or completion. They propose theories aimed at expressing an unfolding synthesis inherent in the psyche, an inward design not necessarily governed by conscious purposes. Each individual is a pregnancy, a carrier of meaning; there is a sense to life.

Psychologists of the humanistic approach, while not necessarily rejecting the value of reductionism entirely, are inclined to underscore where people are going, rather than how they got where they are; thus, they assume the opposite of reduction; namely, synthesis, combining separate elements to form a coherent whole.

This forward movement in thinking is called teleology, from the Greek telos meaning ‘end,’ ‘completion’ ‘goal’ or ‘finality.’ Humanists argue in various ways that the psyche is inherently anticipatory; people are not complete as they are, but have yet to overcome themselves as Nietzsche said. Modern humanists therefore emphasize purpose or aim, which orients to the future rather than to origins; in other words, there is ‘meaning’ for people to uncover in their lives, a becoming rather than an elementary, general, historical atomism.

Thus humanistic psychology tends to emphasize the individual, for only the whole person, they say, can be the carrier of a purpose, aim or meaning. Reductionists often point to the vague and untestable character of humanist thought, but by analogy with human reproduction, a prospective psyche is as yet unformed and cannot be concretely outlined in advance. At best, the psyche’s possibilities can only be intuited or attested to symbolically; that is, by an approximate formulation which represents only a presentiment of a state not yet known.

There is also a substantial library of European psychology in the background of humanistic psychology, much of it expressed in the work of existentialist writers. The orientation might be expressive for highly intuitive temperaments.

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